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Is a Tate gallery membership worth it? My honest take

Is a Tate gallery membership worth it?

The Tate galleries are undoubtedly some of the most famous and celebrated museums in the world. And with its lack of stolen antiquities and transparency in the philanthropy it associates itself with – including acknowledging the origins of the Tate family’s wealth – the collections are definitely part of my faves in London.

If you love art, there are lots of advantages to having a Tate gallery membership. You get all the privileges of free access to special exhibitions, exclusive invites to member-only hours (and previews too, depending on your membership), and member discounts at the Tate shops and cafes. Plus, being a member supports the Tate galleries’ impressive programming and exhibitions – all for £7 per month.

But is it actually worth it, or just another unnecessary expense in this never-ending cost-of-living crisis? Let’s look at what you’re actually getting…

Free exhibitions whenever you want

Sarah Lucas Exhibition at the Tate Britain - by Wrdplay
From ‘Happy Gas’ by Sarah Lucas at the Tate Britain © Wrdplay

If you’re like me and love rocking up to galleries whenever the mood takes you rather than planning ahead, this one is for you. You literally just stroll in, member card in hand (or on Apple Watch), and come and go as you please, with no entry fees.

It’s like an all-you-can-eat buffet, but for your eyes and soul. 

Sometimes I like to take my time with certain exhibitions, popping back in to look at things a second time later on – or occasionally just to revisit at a quieter time when I don’t have to dodge pushchairs and tourists.

The only exception to this is the Yayoi Kusuma exhibition, which you need to book even if you’re a member. I actually became a member just to book an exhibition + lunch slot on my birthday – and to be honest, the Infinity Mirror Rooms were underwhelming, but I fully enjoyed the other exhibitions during the rest of the year!

That said, the Tate always has something interesting going on, from classic and contemporary British art to some, frankly, out-there modern stuff. Of course, it’s free for everyone to visit the permanent collections, but I’ve seen hella interesting and unexpected pieces in the collections since I’ve joined. 

And considering it costs somewhere between £12-£20 for every paid exhibition, you’re already saving money once you’ve seen a few.

VIP vibes in exclusive members spaces

Now, let’s chat about the members spaces. 

Once you’ve been wandering around, soaking in all that art, and you’re starting to feel a bit gallery-fatigued, the members’ spaces are usually a cosy, quiet corner to recharge in.

Except if you go there at the weekend or during the gallery Lates – then it’s a buzzy place for catching up with old friends. But, I mean, why would you go to a gallery on a weekend afternoon or late evening if you’re looking for peace and quiet?

I haven’t yet visited the new first floor member’s bar at the Tate Modern, but the fifth floor members bar has great views if you can grab a space on the terrace on a sunny day (though, I admit, the view is even better from the restaurant upstairs, which is open to everyone). 

The room at Tate Britain is spacious and even has a separate room you can work in during the week if it’s not booked for an event.

The only negative mark I’d give here is the fact the food and drink are expensive, even with the member discount. And the food choices are somewhat… uninspiring – but I’ve definitely seen people taking in their own food. 

All in all, they’re like VIP lounges minus the snootiness, so you could just chill in the room with a coffee or glass of wine and a book.

The Tate Etc. magazine and Members Guide

Tate Etc. magazine - Wrdplay
The Autumn 2023 issue © Wrdplay

Onto the Members Guide. Every season, the Tate sends out an A5 guide to give you a teaser of all the exhibitions coming up in the next season, plus details of all the member’s hours and private views. 

It’s honestly quite useful for reminding you to take advantage of your membership. Again, there are so many cool events like DJ Lates and food or drink pairing events to go to, so when mine comes in I pencil the interesting ones in my diary – otherwise, I would be useless about checking the website and would probably forget to do anything with it, making it a lot less value for money!

Then there’s the Tate magazine, worth £9.50 per quarter. It’s literally a glossy magazine on par with something like Vogue or GQ. Artist interviews, sneak peeks at upcoming shows, deep dives into the art scene – it’s all there. 

And let’s be real, it’s a decent magazine to have displayed on your coffee table if you want to look like a bougie art connoisseur.

My verdict

If you’re always at the galleries and can afford it, then a Tate membership is absolutely worth it. You’ll save on exhibition fees, get some decent member-only perks (including chilled places to work remotely from), and stay informed about the art world through the magazine. 

Even if you go for the top-tier membership where you can take three guests in with you and get access to the private views for £17.50 per month, it’s still cheaper than a £30 monthly Pret subscription.

But if you’re just a once-in-a-blue-moon visitor, you might want to think about how much you’ll really use it. You might be better off getting an Art Fund membership instead, which gives 50% off exhibition tickets at the Tate galleries and elsewhere.

So, what do you think? Ready to join the club?

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Melody

I'm the Engineer of Calm® and the one in charge of the strategic wordsmithing at Wrdplay. I've worked with agencies and companies in the public, private, and non-profit sectors, and hold a personal grudge against waffling. Want to work with me? Email me to get started.

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